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How Morning Meeting Can Become a Sacred Space

You've been thinking about it, planning for it, and executing it for weeks now. Some of you have literally been working on it all summer. Your classroom. It's one of your sacred spaces. A space that is of high importance to you. It's not home. It's not the mall. Not the forest. Or the beach. It's a space in which the things that happen and the thoughts that you and your students have are very important to all of you. In your mind, the way you set up your classroom right now will set the tone for your entire school year. 

Certainly prayer rituals in all religions can be considered as sacred space. To many of us, commuting time with our coffee in our cars is sacred space. Time spent with a pet, loved one, or special friend, can also be sacred space. Those few quiet minutes at the end of a teaching day after the busses have pulled away and the car pickup line has vanished can also be sacred space. You are sitting at your desk or table or even on the floor and no one has come through the door to talk with you. Yet. You know the time. Bet you can even recall how it feels right now!

Your classroom as sacred space. Sacred space is time and space we set aside to create a transition from our fast moving life. Morning Meeting can be an important part of that space. IMO it is a sacred space all on its own. It is a time to pause, to think, and to get in touch with our emotions. It's a time to grow and develop compassion and empathy as we listen to others. It's a time to develop confidence as we share ourselves and our own thoughts. 

Morning meeting sends a clear message to all: 

  • We are not at home right now.
  • We are not outside right now.
  • We are in a space that is important to us as a community.
  • We will learn and grow in this space.
  • This is how we do things here.

This is how we do things here. Probably the most important message you will try to send to your students all year. It's the culture of your learning community. Having a Morning Meeting (or any variation of it that you are comfortable with) is an important part of building your classroom culture. 

According to Responsive Classroom, Morning Meeting consists of four basic activities: greeting, sharing, group activity, and a message. It can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to a half hour. I really recommend using the full half hour in the early days until the "this is how we do things here" part of your class has been established. You can whittle it down as needed throughout the year. The time it takes can be adjusted through the sharing component. Create a system together with your students for deciding how many will share at a particular meeting and how the sharers will be selected. (Draw sticks, pass a ball or talking stick, drop name cards into a bucket, etc.) Some days you will have time for more sharing and even questions or comments about each story, and some days you won't. When it becomes "how we do things here", all variations will be accepted.

As you are setting up your classroom and deciding how to fit in all the academic components, it's important to consider how you will get the attention of your students for the the lessons and standards. If you've got a group that loves to talk, why not direct that in a positive direction, and give them something positive to talk about? Instead of fighting the talking, why not try a Morning Chat? I've written about something I tried in my own classroom called Morning Tweets. Kids came in and wrote what was on their minds. Those tweets could be used as the basis for sharing. While students are chatting or "tweeting", you can get all the housekeeping duties out of the way: lunch count, attendance, notes, etc. Find a specific piece of music that all will recognize as a transition to Morning Meeting time, and you shouldn't need to say a word. If introduced and practiced, kids should be able to come to your sacred space (Morning Meeting space) when they hear the music. 

I like to keep this part short and simple. My students would usually turn to the person on each side and hand shake, fist bump, or nod. They would say "Good morning!" to each other and say their name. You can get as fancy and/or silly with this part as you and your students agree on. We sometimes greeted each other in a language other than English, and sometimes as a Shakespearean character might have said it.

My favorite way to choose who would share was by assigning a number to each student. I used calendar cards that already had numbers 1-30 printed on them. Students were assigned numbers (like their address, I told them!) at the beginning of the year, and added that number to all papers. It was also a good way to make sure that everyone had an equal chance of being called on. Choosing a few numbers to share each day will allow all who want to share a thought or a short story a chance to do so sometime during the week/two week cycle. As each shares, their number is then placed at the bottom of the stack of numbers.

This can be any whole group energizer that you think is fun and beneficial to your students. A dance move, a song, a poem to recite together are some ideas that we have tried. My newest idea is to use Morning Meeting Yoga as a way to include a short yoga practice (one pose and one breath) for the activity. It's short, sweet, and builds a practice that students can use throughout life as an emotional support tool. Adding a themed thought for the day can be in addition to or instead of the message. The thoughts in each set (Ten sets available in all!) will build character traits such as empathy, friendship, gratitude, kindness, caring, goal setting, collaboration, growth mindset, good character, and lifelong learning. The sets are interchangeable. Some contain a few partner poses to try as well!

The message can be a simple thought for the day, or a longer message about what students will be learning that day. I recommend doing both. The yoga thought can be a silent meditation for kids to use through the day, and the academic message can be a great transition to the first lesson of the day. 

Wishing you the best teaching year ever, and hoping that your classroom becomes a true sacred space this year for all who enter! 

Click here for more Zen Classroom resources from Rainbow City Learning! 

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Teaching the Importance of Belonging

The 90s called and they want me back! Back in my classroom, back with those amazing 90s kids in Rainbow City, and back to the warm and fuzzy classroom learning community that we all were back then. What?!? You didn't teach in the 90s? Well, good news! All you've missed is the big hair! You can bring that 90s feeling back to your classroom and to your students this year. Here's how:

My podcasting besties (We Teach So Hard) and I were recently talking about all kinds of belonging, and how to nurture feelings of belonging in our classrooms. I had a list of books that I wanted to suggest when I felt the strong and unavoidable pull of the 90s. The music in my head switched way back to Sheryl Crow's "It Takes All Kinds of People", the song that I found in The Marlo Thomas compilation of songs, stories, poems, and essays called Thanks and Giving. Marlo edited two other volumes as well, Free to Be You and Me and Free to be a Family. These books, published from the 70s through the 90s, informed my teaching practice during the 90s and right up until the day I retired several years ago. They were about all those qualities of character that teachers today are always saying that they are trying to instill in their students.

These three books (available dirt cheap on Amazon, Ebay, and used bookstores) are also available in your local libraries. But trust me, when you start to explore, you will want to own them. Get yours now! (But wait until I grab my backup copies please! 😏) I receive no associate benefits anywhere from telling you that you need these books. The only benefit to me is that I can feel that I've paid it forward to future students of yours.

There are all kinds of belonging. If I learned anything from my thirty - six years in the classroom, it was that strong, confident children who feel secure and safe in their environment are welcoming and inclusive to others. You can't make belonging happen without building those kids up from the inside first! Let Marlo Thomas be your guide in this process. You're welcome.

Before I get into the highlights of these amazing volumes, I want to recommend a little adult reading. Becoming by Michelle Obama is my current pick for a book about belonging. The most important takeaway for me from Becoming is the importance of telling your stories. Lucy Calkins does it. It's the piece that trips up many teachers. "How do I get through these voluminous 'mini-lessons'?" Easy. the voluminous part is her stories. Substitute your own stories and voila! Much easier to remember and teach.

Whenever I told my own stories in class (hopefully with a purpose), I used them to segue into nudging kids to tell their own. And, as I said earlier, kids who feel safe and secure in sharing their stories can welcome other kids into their circle. They are interested in hearing the stories of others as well. The Marlo Thomas collection serves that tell your stories function in bite size, easily digestible pieces. So much of it can be found on YouTube and Spotify, if you'd like to listen with your kids. I love owning the books.

A TV Special of Free to Be You and Me. Marlo discusses why she started to collect the stories, songs, poems, and essays. The title song by The New Seekers is awesome! "Take my hand, come with me where the children are free."

Panel discussion on 40th anniversary.

A classic is "The Day Dad Made Toast" (on You Tube!). I used that for years to encourage kids to write a "small moment" story. We would discuss ways families are different and all the ways different family members take different roles, but remain important members of the family.

"Boy Meets Girl" - all about gender identity. Sound pretty current? Two babies meet in the hospital nursery and discuss their futures.

"The Southpaw" Found this online. I used to cut this pdf up into separate notes, put on a baseball cap, and head into ALL the classrooms with another teacher dressed similarly in a baseball cap, for a little Reader's Theater demo. We were quite in demand as actors at all grade levels. Pretended we were actually writing and passing the notes! All about a note-passing frenzy between two "former" friends, Janet and Richard. Perfect for a discussion on collaboration and choosing teams. Also great for a writing prompt. Kids clamored for the chance to act out this Reader's Theater themselves, and any were inspired to write their own about other conflict situations.

My all-time favorite nugget from Marlo is the Sheryl Crow song mentioned above, "It Takes All Kinds of People". I bought this one from iTunes and loaded it on my classroom computer. When we played our weekly review game on Friday mornings, "Are You a Smart 4th Grader?", this was the "wait time" sound track while "contestants wrote their answers on their individual white boards. Semi techy, and semi old school. This was an activity kids looked forward to all week to earn those rainbow dollars (our class money). They really paid attention to lessons because the questions just might show up on our weekly game! I linked a science specific, but editable version for you in the link above, in case you want to try this game yourself. Change anything you like, but please don't change the master. Make a copy and then make it your own! Running the weekly game was actually a classroom job for three students. More about our class economy and jobs can be found in this resource that you might want to take a look at as you plan your year:

Teaching takeaways:

I used the Free to Be books as prompts for so many aspects of learning in my classroom. I used them mainly to encourage kids to tell their stories. To record those stories in their journals, to use those stories to keep building the kind of person they were becoming, and then to tell the new and changing stories. 
A favorite art project with pretty simple materials is a small moment picture.
  • Draw a "photo" of a small moment in your life. (Could be drawn using an actual photo as an example.) Use pencil and eraser at first.
  • Go over lines in "photo" with a fine point black sharpie.
  • Fill in background scene with watercolors.
I would love it if you send me photos of your "small moments" art, and I will come back to add them here as examples for future readers! You'll be famous, and you will win a free resource from Rainbow City Learning ($3.25 or less). Send photos to .

To win even more resources throughout the year, click and apply here to become a Brand Ambassador for Rainbow City Learning!

To hear more about belonging on our podcast "We Teach So Hard", click this image:
Wishing you the best teaching year ever, in a classroom where the children are free and where everyone feels that they belong!
To read the blog posts from my "We Teach So Hard" friends, click below!

Plan a Teacher PD That You Will Love!

You know the feeling. You are trapped in yet another useless PD that has been planned to fill your time while your classroom to do list is growing along with your anxiety. Your eyes glaze over as your ears and brain fill with "Yada yada yada." Have you struggled to imagine how the topic or strategies offered will have any practical use for you? Have you ever wished that you had some choice in how the PD was planned?

This summer, three teacher friends and I made that wish come true. Our podcast group ("We Teach So Hard") made plans last winter to create a summer PD getaway that would be uniquely useful to the four of us in the teaching, creating, blogging, and podcasting year ahead. Coming together from Connecticut, California, and Michigan took some advance planning. Plane tickets had to be purchased, a location determined, and of course a target list of tasks and presentations had to be established.

The very first step is find your tribe. Don't just put out a district wide message about planning your own PD and wait to see who raises their hand. Actively seek out like minded teachers that you know you would enjoy learning with and just hanging out with. A great place to look is right around you. Those hallway planning sessions and mini PDs that happen every day? I know those have been some of my best inspirational sessions! Ask those colleagues and friends that you regularly discuss pedagogy with. Who are the people that you call to consider a new idea or practice that you'd like to put into place? Maybe your PD soulmates are part of an online group that you participate in. Our group was originally formed by two district colleagues and two teaching friends that we met in online groups. We found so much common ground just through those online interactions that led to true and lasting friendships. So start your list! Where is your tribe? Look at school, look around at district PDs, and check out the members of your online groups. They are just waiting for you to find them!

Our first task was to decide where our PD would take place.  We wanted to spend some time together in a place that would be comfortable both indoors and out. Summer was clearly the best time for all of us, as two are full time classroom teachers who can't easily get away during the school year. The two Michiganders in our group suggested Northern Michigan, where the Summer days and nights are more like early Spring in most of the US. Low 70s in the daytime and high 60s at night. Like having air conditioning inside and out! Aaahhhh.... We selected Mackinac Island in particular because of its rich history and uniqueness. No motor vehicles are allowed on the island. We arrived on a ferry, and all island travel is done by bicycle or horse and carriage. So peaceful!

I was in charge of finding a location on the island where we could work and still have opportunities for play! I started out this time on Trip Advisor and found a condo rental pretty quickly that was perfect for us. High on a bluff, with a great view and comfortable places to work and to find some alone time when each of us needed that. Three bathrooms for four of us? Yes, please! All images on this post are actual photos of our trip, so you can see how beautiful the site actually is!

Equally beautiful might be a park or coffee shop right near where you live. The people that you are with are far more important than where your mini conference is held. Choose and agree on your location according to the budgets and interests in your group.

We decided to focus our PD on our strengths as teachers, and added in some social media lessons to move us further along as bloggers and podcasters.  We all agreed that we learned so much during just three short days that we actually spent onsite. Day 1 and Day 5 were set aside for travel. Of course, you and your team will decide on the most meaningful topics for you. After all, isn't that why you are doing this in the first place?

I spent two years as part of a leadership academy with the purpose of developing teacher leaders. We received one book on leadership each month. Some were connected to education, and some of the readings caused us to imagine and create as we found a relevance in our own search for educational leadership. At the end of the month, we had a two day retreat at a local hotel. The author of the book we had read was also a part of our retreat and led one of the sessions! Anything is possible with a great budget. This one was accomplished through grant writing. Grant writing is a great option when you start to plan your own PD. Just allow plenty of time for that whole process to play out.

Some questions to get you started:
What do you teach? What would you like to learn more about? What strategies  would you like to explore? What have you already spent some time researching that you might be able to teach to the others?

Think about and then discuss these questions with your team as you plan the curriculum for your mini conference. If you are planning to hold your mini conference during the school year, bring your administrator on board. You might ask for release days and/or funds to make it all happen. Grant writing and Donors Choose are also options to find funding.

Some possible overall themes:
Adding Art to STEM or to other subjects
Focus on Test Taking Strategies
Integrating Social Studies into Reading, Writing, and Math
Building Better Classroom Citizens
Making Use of Online Resources for Students
Integrating PBL

This list could go on and on. Make it your own and make sure it matters to all of you!

The image above is a view from our condo at sunset. It's also a reminder not to let the sun go down on your conference without accomplishing part of your working agenda. This takes self-control and perseverance! We did make sure to get our entire agenda accomplished in three days though. We held ourselves and each other accountable. A typical day started with a morning run, bicycle ride,  or indoor Chi Quong (think yoga, standing up) for each of us. Or maybe it started with sleeping in or washing hair. Whatever each of us needed. We were gathered with breakfast by 9 and at work on our agenda. We would generally work until 1:30, travel into town for lunch and ice cream. (Yes, we had ice cream every day. I know.) We stopped at the market for fruit, salads, and nibbles for the evening and headed back for a working dinner. We all changed into jammies for a work session then that lasted until bedtime. We did one dinner out, but worked before and after.

The schedule we came up with worked for the four of us. Yours may look very different. The important thing is to make sure that you accomplish the goal you set when you decided to have this experience together.

I have an overpacking problem. I admit it. You can probably guess which suitcase in the image above is mine! I'm sure that I took three times as many clothes and shoes as I needed. Dragging that thing around was a nightmare, and I needed to depend on everyone else to help! The next time, I will realize that simplicity is the key. Don't bring choices. Bring exactly what you are sure that you will wear, and then just wear that! Having swag tees (Thank you, Tracy!) also gave us several days of no choice dressing. We wore our tees for part of every day!

If you see me at a conference or at the airport in the future, hold me accountable! Did you only pack what you needed? Did you leave something at home?

Totally unexpected, totally unnecessary, and totally fun! Tracy surprised us all with a swag bag containing a notebook, stickers, pens, sunblock, lip balm, snacks, and cute matching t-shirts. I admit that I was not on board with the shirt at first, but I'm loving the pictures now that we are back at home. Our shirts also attracted lots of vacationing teachers to us, making for some fun conversations with people from all over the US and Canada.

I highly recommend packing some fun swag bags. Make some shirts for your tribe!

Having chosen a real vacation spot to hold our mini conference, achieving a play/work balance could have been very challenging. Already knowing that we work well together, this was fairly easy to accomplish. This is another reason to choose your attendees carefully!

Our conference was the perfect combination of work and play, travel to a place of natural beauty, and time well spent with dear friends.

So what are you waiting for? Get started planning your own mini conference today! Keep a planning page in your notebook in case you happen to be stuck in a mandatory PD that doesn't fill a need for you!

Be sure to listen to our podcast on iTunes that we actually recorded together during our time on Mackinac Island!

For more about our DIY Professional Development getaway, be sure to check out the blog posts from Deann, Kathie, and Tracy below!

Summer Book Club for Teachers: Goodbye for Now

What if there was an online dating app with an algorithm so perfect that it could find your perfect match for life in one click? Would you use it? Recommend it to others? Would you think it was even a good thing at all? Sam Elling, computer genius, and main character of the book Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel, has created just such an algorithm. The internet dating company that he works for in Seattle loves it, and promptly fires him because they are losing subscription money when users find their true loves on the very first try.

Sam uses his own algorithm to find the love of his life, Meredith. When Meredith's best friend in the world, her grandmother Livvie, dies suddenly, Meredith is devastated. Sam uses his genius coding abilities to create a new algorithm, one that will simulate actual online communication with loved ones who have passed on. It works perfectly, allowing the user to email, text, message, and video call with a deceased loved one as long as a sufficient online footprint has been left. Meredith's years of communicating with her grandmother as Livvie spent every winter in Florida had created such a footprint.

Unemployed Sam's new algorithm worked so well with a virtual Livvie that Meredith and her cousin convince Sam to use the algorithm to create a new company called RePose to share this amazing online service with all who desire continued contact with their loved ones. What do you think of this science fiction concept floating just beyond our reach? Would you use it? Who would you like to keep in contact with?

Although I could quickly provide a list of those I've loved and lost, losing them all occurred way before a mutual online presence could be established. Sam's idea, however, did send me off on a series of pleasant daydreams on how that might look if it could be done.

Each week, over the past three, my podcast group and I have been discussing some amazing and diverse pleasure reads for teachers and offering fun freebies that accompany the book and speak to the topic of each book.  Before you listen to our podcasts, be sure to read the books addressed, because there are spoilers!  Laurie Frankel's book is a perfect summer read, written fairly simply and absolutely naturally, it's like listening and observing the whole thing happening with real and believable characters.  Goodbye for Now is the fourth in a summer reading series of book discussions on the podcast We Teach So Hard. You can find episode #46 here.

Click on the picture below to grab your freebie!

Click below to see all the books and hear the podcasts on We Teach So Hard!

Enjoy the last sweet days of summer because you teach so hard too!

Sliding into Summer

It's an exhilarating time of the year! Testing should be over by now (Pleeeease tell me that's true for you!), classrooms are getting packed up and summerized, and we're celebrating all the learning that has happened for our students in this important piece of their childhood. Still so much to do and so much to ponder. 

I cried at the end of all but one of my classroom years. (That one year is another loooong story. I'll save that for now.) I was sure that I would never see these precious children of my heart again once they ran out the door into the summer sunlight (or rain! We live in Michigan, where the weather is never guaranteed.). My teaching friend, Joanie, always told me not to cry because, "They're making more. And when they are ready, they'll send them!" But what about this group? What about these kids who have become a kind of family with me this year? 

The good news is that so many of them have come back as adults as our lives have crossed once more, whether in real life or on social media. Hearing them say to their own children that I was their third or fourth or fifth grade teacher fills my heart. Surprisingly, more than a few have remembered and reminded me of the "Super Summer Kit" I once sent them out the door with on that last and bittersweet day of our year or years together. (Lots of looping years!)

What was the Super Summer Kit? It was simply a large ziplock bag or white 8 1/2 x 11 envelope filled with an activity calendar, a list of books "Recommended in Rainbow City" by other students, a goodbye letter from me filled with memories of our year together, and hopes I held for them as they grew up and away, fun writing suggestions like nature observations and different ways to make fun books and journals, a list of fun local day trips and summer field trips, and a summer bucket list brainstorming activity called "I Would if I Could". Kids used these throughout the summer with no future deadlines or pressure. Some even took them to camp for some downtime suggestions to share with bunkmates. I made a colorful and personalized cover page for each one, and loved having this unique gift to greet them on the last day of school as important as the backpack bags I greeted them with on the first day!

Since I have now have evidence that so many are hugely successful adults, and since those who looped with me or returned to a classroom of a teaching friend that I could check in with came back refreshed and even smarter, I have to conclude that the Super Summer Kit was enough. The thick worksheet books that parents used to clamor for at our local Borders Book Shop every May and June seemed daunting and uninteresting to me. What kid wants an assignment to complete every day all summer long, in  the interest of "keeping skills sharp"? Kids need their vacation and down time just as much as we adults do to refresh, recharge, and renew our interest in learning. I always found that the activities that I selected for that kit (most found right here) were a "just right" approach to summer learning.

So, if you are lamenting the end of the school year, even while looking forward to your own summer plans, and want to send your babies off with a fun and leaning filled kit for their summer, I hope you'll check out these summer resources from Rainbow City Learning for a happy slide through summer and into the next school year. And don't worry, they're still making more! (Love and kisses to Joanie, now in Heaven.)

For more ideas as you slide into summer, please check out the fabulous bloggers of Teacher Talk! Want to join us? Email me and I'll tell you how to do it!

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Spring Activities

When we think of April, we usually think of Earth Day and National Poetry Month. Did you know that it is also National Garden Month? Neighbors here in Michigan are telling me that their tulips and crocuses have raised their winter weary heads. Nothing happening here yet, but I am filled with hope, just breathing in a little of that air filled with the promise of spring. That smell? You know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. The scent that fills your soul with the promise of spring. Do you know what you are actually smelling though, when you smell that smell? MUD! You are smelling MUD! The earth is thawing. There has probably been some rain recently, and when you stick your nose out the door to check on the crocuses (as I just did, right this minute), you are actually smelling mud!

When you share that news with your students, and I'm 99.9% sure that you will, here's an amazing book to share along with that news! Your kids will love it! I promise! It's oozy, gloppy, and delicious! Great for word choice lessons too!

Some fun followup activities that you can try to bring the promise of this new season into your classroom:

Soil Sundaes
This one is a forever favorite of my students (the citizens of Rainbow City). Some of them, as adults, are still thanking me for this one. It's memorable. Here it is, for free, from my Stepping Into Steam resource. You're welcome.
If you love this activity, and would like to see the whole resource (including Wearing Away with Erosion and Truffle Craters, also good followups here, along with a scaffolded STEAM journal), just click on the Soil Sundaes card below. 

Of course, the sundae making activity is fun. Try adding some gummy worms! I also loved keeping soil, rock, sand, and pebble samples handy to make actual soil samples after this activity and then trying to grow flowers or beans in the soil. Kids and I brought back samples from our vacations in empty camera film containers (I know, what are those?) Any empty container will work. Glad makes teeny tiny ones, if you'd like to make them uniform. 
I also made soil, sand, pebbles, mulch, etc. available from our local garden store. Yours might be willing to donate! Offer to take pictures and have kids write about their soil investigations for them to display in their store. Grownups love that stuff!

Poetry Flowers

This one blends the observance of National Poetry Month with Spring. When the mud (or playground surface) is dry, try taking your kids outside for some splatter painting fun. Think Jackson Pollock. Or Eric Carle. I'm a big fan of planning a day in the spring to use up my leftover paints. Much preferable to storing all the odds and ends. Take some roll paper or just large sheets of paper outside, take kids dressed in clothes that can risk some paint spots, aaallllll your almost empty paint containers, and some brushes outside. This is best done at the end of a day so that the papers can dry around your classroom overnight. (Have a conversation with the custodian first about how this would work best in your school.) 
The next day, when dry, kids cut the splatter paintings into flower shapes, take a circle of colored copy paper, and write a poem on it. The display will make your room look like Spring inside!

Some of the paintings my kids made and a sample poetry flower below. To see the resource I created to make this, just click below!

Create a Fairy Garden

A fairy garden is a fun STEAM project for Spring. Use recyclables, maker space stuff, and found objects to create a special spot in the outdoor area of your building or in a corner near a classroom window. Small fairy gardens in pots also make great Mother's Day, Special Person or Grandparent's Day gifts. These can be accomplished very inexpensively with reusable stuff. 
Here's a Pinterest board to explore for ideas. Just click below!

Wishing you a muddy, fun, and happy Spring!
For more great ideas for Spring activities, be sure to visit the Teacher Talk blogs!
If you'd like to join us as a blogger, email me!

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